September 19, 2012

Propaganda Battle For Kismayo Intensifies

The massive information battle for Somalia's southern port of Kismayo continues to blaze as new reports pour into local and global media.

Pressing forward on rumors that al-Shabaab's local commanders have fled the city, Somali General Ismail Sahareed told the BBC Somali Service, "In the last battles [on Saturday and Monday] we defeated al-Shabab's defense forces and they ran away and we are chasing their remnants." He was referring to the security sweeps between Biibi and Jana Cabdalla, located roughly 20 miles from Kismayo, where AMISOM remains locked in asymmetric warfare with al-Shabaab. The looming threat of this "final offensive" reportedly dislodged some of the insurgency's presence in Kismayo, spawning cautiously optimistic rhetoric from Somali and AU sources.

“We are very, very near Kismayu,” Kenyan military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna told Reuters on Wednesday. "It is not a tarmac road that we are walking on. We have to be cautious, the way is littered with explosives. Nevertheless, it will happen. Kismayu will fall."

However Kenyan and other AMISOM forces have encountered relatively stiff resistance on their way to the port. Seeking to refute AMISOM and Mogadishu's account of battle, al-Shabaab spokesman Muhammad Usman Arus told the BBC that "around 100 Kenyan and Somali troops" had been killed on the way to Kismayo. He also denied existing reports of a withdrawal: "We are in Kismayo - this is a propaganda war." That much of his statement, at least, remains true for the moment. Judging the degree of this resistance is a riddle to AMISOM's strategic planners and civilian observers alike; al-Shabaab has vacated most of its cities over the last year under the banner of guerrilla warfare. In the near-term, though, insurgents are reportedly flooding back into the port just as quickly as they left.

While Kenyan forces have inflicted a greater human toll on al-Shabaab throughout their year-long campaign, the insurgency has yet to abandon Kismayo and appears to have decided on organizing a resistance. Local residents now speak of al-Shabaab technicals patrolling the streets, in coordination with hundreds of gunmen, as they stage a show of force for AMISOM and Somalia's government. According to several eyewitnesses, the insurgency "drafted in fighters from the nearby Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions," a triangle that marks al-Shabaab's territorial stronghold. Anti-aircraft guns have also been trucked into Kismayo under the alleged supervision of several "high-ranking" commanders, who may have "fled" in order to a conduct recruitment drive. 

Radio Andalus has returned to the airwaves after a two-day break.

Al-Shabaab's efforts to mobilize Kismayo's population on their side aren't as likely to pay off. Unlike Ethiopia's occupation, Kenyan troops have been welcomed by locals and operate with a greater sense of political awareness in backyard territory - factors that have kept Operation Linda Nchi from degenerating into a quagmire. Conversely, Kenya's shelling and aerial patrolling of Kismayo has disturbed its residents and Western financial backers, and the rising anticipation of battle could force an increase in Kenya's tempo. Witnesses in Kismayo's outlying villages claim that AMISOM troops are firing on "anything that moves in front of them."

AMISOM has already waited months to storm the city, thus patience must be exercised over visions of a swift and decisive victory. Protecting the city and its people is the surest path to lasting political, economic and social gains.

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